Michael Peters has led the Tropical Forages Program at CIAT for 12 years now, but his history with forages began 30 years ago, when he started pursuing a Master’s degree in Tropical Forages at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Congo DR (Zaire, at that time), then he worked in Nigeria at ILCA/ILRI, and since 1998, at CIAT, in Colombia.

During his stay at CIAT, he has focused on integrating tropical forage genetic resources research and natural resource management, with a strong emphasis on linking the research and development approaches led by farmers and scientists, experts in the selection of forage options for different biophysical and socio-economic environments, as well as linking farmers to markets and innovative systems.

Recently, he and his team have been developing tropical forage varieties that enable improved animal productivity, better adaptation to biotic and abiotic stresses, while being environmentally friendly, through the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. I talked to him some days ago to become acquainted with the program’s strategies for 2019, the upcoming and future challenges facing him and his team, and the Alliance between Bioversity International and CIAT, the key of which, he claims, is working on seed systems and biodiversity issues for environmental and climate change impacts. Another topic that is gaining momentum is the forages-livestock-water linkage as key to sustainable food systems in the future.

What is the Tropical Forages Program banking on?

The projected demographic growth and the increasing demand for animal protein, particularly by the population with higher incomes in developing countries, combined with the rapid loss of the natural resource base, mean that there is an urgent need to reduce the environmental footprint of livestock production.  To achieve this, we are working on carbon sequestration, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, restoration of degraded lands and water-efficient use.

Michael Peters, Leader of Tropical Forages.

Program researchers are studying the current and potential impacts of livestock production systems on climate change. Similarly, we are advancing in defining strategies for large-scale sustainable intensification of production systems to achieve efficiency in the use of natural resources.

Moreover, we are working to contribute significantly to sustainable food production systems through natural resource conservation, improved productivity and profitability of farming in developing countries, and sustainable livelihoods, since their adoption translates into greater incomes.

What are the challenges for this year?

In Asia, we are designing a platform that will contain all the information on the legume materials that we have, and it will be launched in May. Furthermore, we will complete the Tropical Forages Selection Tool v.2, a tool designed to help select forage species suitable for local conditions in the tropics and sub-tropics. These technologies will be very useful for agricultural researchers and extension agents engaged in improving livestock production, and users will be able to access through mobile devices, such as tablets and telephones, in that continent.

In addition, the web page http://www.tropicalforages.info/ will be promoted as an important knowledge product that provides easy access to information on tropical forages.

In Africa, we are starting to scale up several forage lines, and we have been working on improving soils and measuring greenhouse gases. In Central America, we have several projects with the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), where we are combining components of production, economy, and the environment. In Colombia, carbon-neutral livestock production is turning a lot of heads, and we will address this convinced that we can move it forward through the work we are carrying out with the Colombian Corporation for Agricultural Research (Agrosavia) and the forage network at the national level.

We will also advance the modernization of the remote sensing evaluation methodology (with drones and satellites), and building reliable databases with controlled trials in animals, not only for meat, but also for milk production.

We will release a new material under the name of “Camello”, bred from Brachiaria species, and whose main trait is drought tolerance.

What do you think of the Alliance between Bioversity and CIAT?

We will have a wide range of opportunities, because we are quite complementary. We have key opportunities to work together: income generation for farmers, based on knowledge management and seed systems; sustainable food systems and restoration of degraded lands.

A promising future

The Tropical Forages Program will seek to identify sustainable intensification to enhance environmental benefits and improve the livelihoods of smallholders, on the basis of forage systems.

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